Monday, June 16, 2003

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Perhaps you've heard of this book. By the way, despite appearances, I don't believe that the link reading "You can contact me at my email address" at the Bram Stoker page will actually put you in touch with Bram. It will put you in touch with Bram's secretarial service, which has handled all his correspondence since his fingers rotted away. Or possibly with the owner of the webpage, I don't know.

It's been at least fifteen years since I last read this book, and I remember it as one of my more enjoyable high school reads. I think perhaps that I was most enamored with the epistolary style, which I had never seen before at that time. It's still a wonderful device, giving the reader an immediacy which is rarely found, a feeling of discovery. It is not difficult to imagine that one has stumbled upon a yellowed manuscript secreted in a trunk found in a dusty attic, or some similar forgotten place. In other words, it feels real.

There is little to quibble about in this story. I suppose there is a reason it's a classic. It's well-paced, for one thing: it starts out with Jonathan Harker's unfortunate visit to the count in his castle in the Carpathians, and then just as Jonathan attempts escape it cuts away to the story of his fiance Mina Harker and her friend Lucy Westerna. We are left to wonder what has become of Jonathan while Mina and Lucy witness the strange arrival of a dead ship, and the subsequent nocturnal wanderings of Lucy. By leaving Jonathan's tale unresolved, Stoker encourages the reader to stay with him through what may on the surface to be some rather dull domestic reportage.

It's odd to think of a Victorian thriller, but the pacing is consistently good throughout, and although there is more hand-wringing (and weeping) than one generally finds in contemporary fiction, the impatience of a modern reader could be almost entirely attributed to the fact that Stoker's story has become so well known that it seems inconceivable that his characters haven't heard it before. What is obvious to us, culturally acclimated to the idea of vampires as we are, is beyond the realm of conception for all but the enigmatic Van Helsing. Still a good read, after all this time.